There has been a great deal written now about Scarlet Johansson and Soda Stream. Very simply, Scarlet Johansson decided to be an ambassador for Soda Stream, a company that according to the BBC "makes products that allow people to produce carbonated soft drinks at home [and] operates one of the hundreds of factories constructed in some 20 Israeli-run industrial zones in the West Bank." Israeli occupation of Palestine is seen by many, including Oxfam as a human rights violation. Scarlet Johansson was, prior to about a week ago, an ambassador for Oxfam since 2007. Her recent move to work with Soda Stream prompted Oxfam to ask her to resign. Whole situation is an interesting debate. Soda Stream is owned by Israelis who hire Palestinians to work in the factory. The Christian Science Monitor writes that "Palestinians workers at the SodaStream factory in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank say they would be the losers of a successful consumer boycott of the fizzy-drink maker." Yet the occupation of Palestine by Israel is one of the prime reasons that there is a lack of jobs in Palestine in the first place. Oxfam writes on its website "The ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel have limited economic growth and increased poverty for Palestinians."
Let me set the scene a bit though. The West Bank is a shrinking chunk of land east of the city of Jerusalem, situated between Israel and Jordan. While there is a long and complicated history attributed to the Israel-Palestine conflict that reaches far back in history, since at least 2000 Israel has been building a 26ft tall wall in and around the West Bank. Not only does the wall weave in and out of established communities, cutting off families from fields, hospitals, jobs, and more, but the access to the wall is also restricted, so much that the land confiscated for the wall, its buffer zone, and the military restricted zone between Palestine and Jordan make up almost a 3rd of the West Bank's land.
Spotted throughout the West Bank are illegal Israeli settlements. These are housing communities that were built against international agreements and international law on Palestinian land. These settlements are protected by the Israeli military and Israeli only roads have been built to connect these settlements to each other and to Jerusalem. Palestinians are not allowed to travel on or across these roads. The Huffington Post writes "The third largest West Bank settlement has been in the spotlight because a proposed highway project, called the E1, would connect Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem, bisecting the West Bank and making it difficult for Palestinians in the northern part of the West Bank to travel to the southern part, as well as reach East Jerusalem."
The issue with the Israeli settlements is more than just an issue of limited mobility. Israeli settlers have in many cases harassed and threaten Palestinians. Israeli settlements are often built on top of Palestinian water supplies (Slightly ironic where Soda Stream is concerned). Aljazeera reports "The company employs both Palestinian and Israeli workers and says its plant offers a model of peaceful cooperation, but settlements are deemed illegal under international law and are condemned by Oxfam, which has a large operation in the region."
To show another view: A friend of mine who is from Egypt, wrote on his Facebook wall:
"I think the people attacking Scarlett Johansson are a combination of well-meaning and feeble-minded. So you’re boycotting Israeli businesses, universities and cultural institutions because you’re against the occupation, yet you live, work, shop, and pay taxes in America? America, the world’s sole hegemone and imperial power? America that –just this decade- carpet-bombed and occupied 2 countries and killed hundreds of thousands of innocents? Is the irony of your moral stance lost on you? Leave Scarlett alone. My qualms are not with boycott in principle. My qualms are with all these activists pointing fingers at Israel for crimes that their own government commits on a regular basis. To say that one should not buy an Israeli product because it supports the occupation, but not apply the same logic to American products is hypocritical. It's no different from Americans condemning Soviet repression of human rights in the fifties while African Americans were still being lynched across the country. The soviets could not take America's moral stance seriously when it wasn't even applying it to itself. Likewise, calling Chemical Weapons a red line that it won't allow Syria to cross, when America has repeatedly crossed that line in Vietnam and never apologized for its use of chemical weapons, reeks of that same hypocrisy. And all I ask of those activists, is a little bit of consistency in their position, that's all."
And my friend is right. While Israel is building walls that compress and oppress the Palestinian community, the US has been doing that for years to Native American reservations and the US-Mexico Border. Control and pollution of water sources have increased poverty through out the western US and very few American sold products are made consciously. The US destroys country after country with a blind sense of justice and most of us Americans sit idly by. What do we do then? Where do we start?
The BDS (Boycotts, Divestments, and Sancations) movements is one way. The work of direct non-violence and human rights advocacy are anothers. I think that there are people here in the US who are meant to work on some issues and not others. And I hope that over the next few months as I continue to write on this blog, some of those people and some of that work will come through to all of you readers. While I'm challenged by my friend's words, I fight against the overwhelming sense of dis-empowerment that those same words fuel. There is a lot being done already on US fronts of environmentalism, labor, anti-militarization, war-taxes, human trafficking, immigration, even BDS. An yes, some of the people doing these things also own a Soda Stream devise... you know who you are. I'm the friend who gives you crap about it when ever I see them. But, these are the people, as imperfect as we all are, and these are their stories that will empower us to get in gear, back in gear, more in gear... if we aren't already.